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THE BATTLE OF COLENSO


On Friday the 15th December the Ladysmith relief column under Sir Redvers Buller. attacked the enemy in full force. The Dutchmen held very strong positions  north of Colenso, their camps and laagers being linked with those surrounding the southern side of Ladysmith, while to the south of the river they also held a formidable and commanding post. About three miles in front was an  open plain, with hardly a vestige of cover in any direction. All around was a crescent-shaped constellation of high kopjes. The great hill of Hlangwane, on the left flank of the enemy, though it was not known at the onset, was  strongly fortified, and vis-a-vis to the Hlangwane guns on the extreme right were posted more guns. Between these two eminences was the plain aforesaid, veined with dongas which reached to the terribly steep banks of the river,  where were more intrenchments. From Fort Wylie, another of the fortified kopjes, the Boers commanded the little village of Colenso and the expanse of country through which Sir Redvers Buller proposed to advance to Ladysmith.  The Tugela, wide and deep, ran between the foes, except on the left of the Boer position, where the Dutchmen held both banks of the river.

Upon their defensive works the Boers had spent a vast amount of labour. Besides rows  of trenches cunningly concealed by grass and scrub upon the flats on both sides of the river, barbed wire entanglements complicated the situation both at the trenches and under the Water at the river fords. The water of the  river was also deepened by means of cleverly-made dams, in order that any troops which might endeavour to ford the current would find themselves carried off their feet.

But, of course, the intricacy of these ingenious  arrangements was only discovered at the cost of bitter experience. Later on, a great deal of after-the-event wisdom was forthcoming, and the ignorance of all concerned regarding the nature of the position to be attacked was  severely commented upon. It was said that no satisfactory reconnaissance of the enemy's position was made, and that accurate knowledge of the nature of the ground to be passed over was not forthcoming. It was also averred that  neither subordinate officers nor men were informed of what was expected of them, and that the only maps supplied to regimental officers were small-scale maps of the whole of South Africa, forty miles to the inch. However, it is  clear that General Buller fully believed in his ability to force the passage of the Tugela, and viewed the position, though formidable, as less formidable than it really was. From all accounts it was plain that All the generals  believed the village of Colenso to be evacuated, and none of them seemed to foresee very powerful opposition from that quarter or to take into account the exceeding rapidity with which the Boers managed to return to positions  temporarily vacated.

Selections from the general orders of the day will show the proposed plan of action, and help to an understanding of how much one side may propose and the other dispose in a modern campaign :-

GENERAL ORDERS.

"Orders of Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Clery, commanding the South Natal field forces.

"CHIEVELEY, Dec. 14, 1899 (io P.M.).

"1. The enemy is intrenched in the kopjes north  of the Tugela; one large camp is reported to be near the Ladysmith road, about five miles north-west of Colenso. Another large camp is reported in the hills which lie off the Tugela in a northerly direction from Hlangwane Hill,  a rough scrub-covered kopje.

"2. It is the intention of the General Officer Commanding to force a passage of the Tugela to-morrow.

"3. The 5th Brigade (Major-General Hart's) will move from its present camp at 4.30  A.M. and march towards Bridle Drift (a ford about four miles west of Colenso), immediately west of the. junction of Doornkop Spruit and the Tugela. The brigade will cross at this point, and after crossing move along on the left  bank of the river towards the kopjes north of the iron bridge.

"4. The 2nd Brigade (Major-General Hildyard's) will move from its present camping-ground at 4 A.M., and, passing south of the present camping-ground of No. I  and No.2 of the divisional troops, will march in the direction of the iron bridge at Colenso, and the brigade will cross at this point and gain possession of the kopjes north of the iron bridge.

"5. The 4th Brigade  (Major-General the Hon. N. G. Lyttelton's) will advance at 4.30 A.M. to the point between Bridle Drift and the railway south, and can support either the 5th or the 2nd Brigade.

"6. The 6th Brigade (Major-General  Barton's), less half a battalion as escort to the baggage, will move at 4 A.M. east of the railway in the direction of Hlangwane Hill to a position where it can protect the right flank of the 2nd Brigade, and, if necessary,  support it or the mounted troops referred to later as moving towards Hlangwane Hill.

"7. The officer commanding the mounted brigade (the Earl of Dundonald) will move, at 4 A.M. with a force of 1000 men and one battery,  No. I brigade division, in the direction of Hlangwane Hill. He will cover the right flank of the general movement, and will endeavour to take up a position on Hlangwane Hill, where he will enfilade the kopjes north of the iron  bridge. The officer commanding the mounted troops will also detail two forces of 300 and 500 men, to cover the right and left flanks respectively and protect the baggage.

"8. The Second Brigade Division of the Royal  Field Artillery will move, at 4.30 A.M., following the Fourth Brigade and will take up a position whence it can enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. The Sixth Brigade (Major-General Barton's) will act on any orders it  receives from Major-General Hart. The six Naval guns, twelve-pounders, now in position north of the Fourth Brigade, will advance on the right of the Second Brigade Division Royal Field Artillery. No. 1 Division Royal Field  Artillery, less one battery detached to the mounted brigade, will move at 3.30 A.M. east of the railway, and proceed, under cover of the Sixth Brigade, to a point from which it can prepare a crossing for the Second Brigade. The  six Naval guns will accompany and act with the Brigade Division."

It must be remembered that the railway bridge had been blown up, but a footbridge still existed.

Before dawn Lord Dundonald with a mounted brigade and a battery of artillery moved to the east, while General Hart and his brigade started to try and cross Brindle Drift. The field-guns came next with cavalry-the 1St Royals and  13th Hussars-to protect either flank. Major-General Hildyard's brigade advanced to occupy the post of honour in the centre of the theatre of war. On the right were the West Surrey with the West Yorks in support. On the left marched  the Devons with the East Surrey in rear. At 6 A.M. the Naval Contingent opened the proceedings. Their 12-pounders began to snort and to roar, and lyddite whizzed and shrieked over to Grobler's Hill and in the neighbourhood of Fort  Wylie. But it whizzed and shrieked in vain. The Boers were "mum." They were "lying low," and had determined to keep their position masked as long as possible. They adopted the same tactics which had so  confounded us at Majesfontein. The infantry now advanced, while Colonels Long and Hunt made haste-undue haste, as lamentable experience proved - to come into line with their field-batteries. At this moment, when all seemed to be  going well, when Hart's, Hildyard's, and Barton's brigades were moving to their several positions, the sudden combined roar of Boer artillery and musketry was heard, coming not, as rnight have been suposed, from the distance but  from the immediate front and apparently from all sides. A very cylone of Mauser bullets swept around, rattling and barking from the river bank from trenches north south of the Tugela, from Fort Wylie, and from every available point  of vantage. Flame in tongues and forks belched out as from a crackling bush. The advancing infantry - the Devons and the West Surrey - found themselves almost carried off their feet; leaden hail beat the dust around, digging deep  into the earth and sending up spurts blinding dust, or whist a warning of death to heart of many an honest lad and true. So deadly, so awful was this fusillade that it seemed impossible to do aught but flee.

Yet the gunners stood tight at their guns, and the infantry with set faces like masks of bronze, regardless of companions that drop thick and fast around upon them, stared death straight in the face-stared at and recognised  and knew him, and still maintained their ground! More-they advanced; nearer and nearer to the invisible enemy they came, afterwards lying down and returning the fire with interest, while the guns of Long's and Hunt's  field-batteries boomed and bellowed and vomited fire like Inferno released. Fort Wylie and its neighbourhood were swept with shrapnel and almost silenced, but only for a moment. Disaster was in the air. The concealed  sharpshooters of the enemy, who crowded the Boer lines, had applied themselves to making a concentrated attack on the guns, picking off horses and officers and men, and finally reducing the snorting weapons which had been  galloped too quickly into action, and were within 700 yards of the enemy's trenches, to a condition of pitiable impotence. Only the third field-battery and the Naval battery could move, and these were quickly drawn off to a  place of safety. Amidst this scene of tragedy and uproar the Devons and West Surrey were steadily pursuing their way with a heroism that absolutely defies description. The enemy was driven out of the platelayers' and  surrounding houses, and Colenso village was cleared. What the guns failed to do the bayonet accomplished, and before the glint of the steel-the cold, stern steel they so much dread-the Boers had bolted. But all around them  Krupps and Maxims and Hotchkiss guns were still working hard, spouting and shrieking, and tearing earth and men and horses, and throwing them together in one horrible, hideous heap.

Certainly the advance of H ildyard's men  was a noble achievement. Their effort to capture the road bridge and hold the village of Colenso in face of a scene of carnage was an act of splendid courage and determination; but they were assailed with so deadly a storm of  shot and shell that they had no choice but to retire. Though they had imagined the village to be evacuated, the place had been swarming with Boers, they evidently having expected to be attacked in this quarter. Not only were  they strongly in-trenched, but the guns on the surrounding hills commanded the position, and when the Boers were temporarily routed the guns still continued to sweep the whole place with such unerring accuracy and fierceness  that the ground was thickly strewn with the bodies of the mangled. Until those guns could be silenced, efforts of the infantry were so much waste of valiant flesh and blood; but our power to silence them was at an end. The guns  of the 14th and 66th Batteries were doomed. They had, as before said, been approached too close to the river, and thus been exposed to the unerring rifle-fire of the Boer mercenaries. The attack was immediately returned, but  before long the whole party, officers, gunners, and horses, were simply mown down. As fast as more horses were brought up they were annihilated. In addition to this the gunners ran short of ammunition. To await the arrival of  this, such survivors as there were doubled back to the shelter of a donga twenty yards in their rear. At that time there was no intention of abandoning the guns. Superb were the efforts made to save them. Three officers rushed  forward into the open, and, with some heroic drivers and such horses as they could get, made their way very deliberately towards the two field-batteries and into the mouth of a flaming helL' These were Captain Schofield, R.A.  (A.D.C. to General BuIl&), Captain the Hon. F. Roberts, 6oth Rifles, and Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade. This glorious bravery was almost an act of suicide, and in sheer amazement at the wondrous 'valour of these dauntless  Britons, the Boer rifle-fire, for one instant, was suspended In the next, shot and shell burst - forth afresh and the scene became too harrowing for description.

Roberts, the gallant and the beloved, dropped, wounded in five  places, while his horse was blown to bits, and Congreve, his jacket riddled to ribbons, was hit several times. Schofield, by a miracle, came whole from the ordeal, and succeeded in the almost impossible task of hauling off the  two guns, for which all three and many others had risked their lives. The rest of the guns were captured by the enemy, but of this anon.

Major-General Hart's Brigade, consisting of the Dublins, Inniskillings, Borderers, and  Connaughts, fulfilled in a measure what was expected of them. Some of them actually crossed the Tugela, but, alas! to no purpose. The position near the other side was untenable. A dam had been thrown across the water to deepen  it. Cascades of artillery shrapnel were so liberally poured upon them, there was no holding up a head in such a fusillade. Yet they pushed on to the river, and the enemy fell back before them or dropped under their steady  determined fire. The Dutchmen were driven to the north bank of the Tugela, and the Irish Brigade gallantly plunged in, thinking the water was knee-deep or at least fordable, and it was only then that they discovered that the  wire entanglements that had been spread around the trenches were also under water, and that the flood itself was unexpectedly deep, owing to the ingenious dam that had been constructed by the "slim" adversary. There  were now ten feet of water instead of two, and sad was the plight of many a poor fellow of the Dublins and Connaughts, who, weighted with ammunition and accoutrements, found it impossible to swim to shore or even to rdturn.  They were drowned in the flood, while others dropped in heaps under the enenly's fire, and even under volleys of our own men, who, unluckily, mistook them for the foe. But the Irishmen's blood was up, and some, at any cost,  determined to reach the other side to get one grip of the enemy, but what many of them thought to be the other bank was merely the bank of a winding spruit, which took them no farther towards the foe. The disappointment and  rage was intense. Boom, boom, went the cannons roarin their dirge of death; bang, bang, bellowed the Naval battery in reply; rattling and raking came the bullets above the heads of the plunging Irishmen; splash, splash, sang  the cold muddy water in their ears as they scrambled from rock to stone or swam for dear life. All that gallantry could do was done, but there was no appreciable advance with them, or indeed anywhere-ill-luck or bad management  frustrated the best efforts on every hand. Men fell in heaps; horses with half their bodies blown away littered the veldt; the guns were stuck fast-useless lumber, too valuable to leave, too heavy to get away. Some say that had  it not been for the action of the artillery commander in taking a whole brigade division-three batteries-up at agallop to within 700 yards of the enemy's trenches, the day might still have been ours. The valiant Irishmen would  still have pursued their risky advance. Others declared that the want of proper scouting caused the whole fiasco, and that all the pluck of the Irish Brigade was so much heroism wasted. They had no information relative to the  intrenchments of the place to be attacked by them, nor any conception of the strength of the opposition they were liable to meet. No scouts appear to have discovered the position of the ford by which they were ordered to cross,  or the nearness of the enemy to that point, and consequently the brigade marched in quarter-column into the very jaws of death; only deploying when shells had already begun to burst in their midst. Like the guns of the Royal  Artillery, they found themselves before they were prepared in the midst of a close and deadly fusillade-the more deadly and unnerving because on the clearest of days not a whiff of smoke betrayed the quarters from whencle' the  murderous assaults were coming.

General Barton's brigade, like Hart's and Hildyard's, failed to effect its object. It was found impossible to obtain possesslpn of Hlangwane Hill, which was much more strongly held than it was  believed to be. The troops were assailed from thence by such galling shell and rifle fire that they were eventually forced to retire.

On the extreme right, the mounted troops, under Lord Dun donald, made a vigorous attack at  the Hlangwane Hill, on which was posted the Boer pieces which had wrought such devastation among the British batteries. However, in advancing up the valley, they were outflanked by the Boers, and had eventually to retire under  a storm of bullets. The irregulars, for their part, worked splendidly. The South African Horse advanced on the front under a heavy shell fire. Thorneycroft's Horse, the Natal Carabineers, the Imperial Light Horse, and the  Mounted Infantry at the same time attempted the flanking attack; but the Boer lines, which ran along some high ground to the right of the flanking party, defeated their best efforts. Owing to the bad light, and to the fact that  the Boers used smokeless powder, their fire failed to reveal their position, and the discomfort of the attacking party was considerable.

Meanwhile the 7th Battery, which was with Lord Dundonald, kept shelling Hlangwane and  Fort Wylie in turns, the latter being done in order to assist the general advance. About noon Lord Dundonald was ordered to retire. This, however, was immediately impossible. So soon as the men began to move they became targets  for the foe. Many of the men were reluctant to retire at all, and were pressing in their desire to still "have a go" at the enemy. The retirement at last, after a two hours' struggle, was accomplished without undue  loss. The 7th Battery, under command of Major Henshaw, made splendid practice. During the engagement Lord Dundonald sent a team of gun and waggon horses, under Captain Reed, to assist the 14th and 66th Batteries to recover  their guns. Captain Reed returned to the 7th Battery, and though he came back with a bullet in his leg, he insisted on remaining with it until he was ordered back to camp.

Generals Buller and Clery were ubiquitous, riding  coolly about and directing where the hurricane of lead was thickest, and running risks which rendered all who saw them anxious for their safety. Indeed, as some one remarked, one would have thought they were lieutenants trying  to make a name, and not generals with the responsibility of an army on their minds. The loss of either of these prominent officers would have been counted by the Boers as a sign of victory, and therefore, when one was hit in  the side and another in the arm by glancing bullets, there was considerable alarm among those who were near enough to observe what had taken place. Captain Hughes, R.A.M.C., was killed, and others of the Staff were wounded.  Lord Gerard twice had narrow escapes, his horse being twice wounded.

A squadron of the Imperial Horse had an exciting experience. The men, who had dismounted to move in extended order across level country, were beginning to  cross a ploughed field. Suddenly a rifle volley was opened upon them, and they were forced to lie down for cover. But the enemy, though on a kopje not 500 yards distant at this time, was quite invisible; and on this clear, hot  day, though the song of the Mauser went on persistently, there was no smoke to betray the enemy's position. The Imperial Horse lay quiet, and the enemy thinking they were perhaps annihilated ceased firing. Presently, however,  when the troopers ventured out, the firing was renewed, and many were killed and wounded. It is invidious to menti6n special regiments when all fought so resolutely. 'Fhe behaviour of the irregular forces, however, was the  subject of general remark. They held their position under a heavy crossfire, refusing to retire without their wounded. And when they did retire, the movement was executed without flurry, with precision and composure, as if the  battlefield were one vast manceuvring ground. Meanwhile the Boers still struggled to outflank our' right, and the 13th Hussars had a lively time, Colonel Blagrove having his charger shot under him; but there were few serious  calamities, only two of the troopers being killed.

Many instances of heroism were recorded on the part of men and officers belonging to all the regiments engaged in the battle. Lieutenant Ponsonby, of Thorneycroft's Horse,  while endeavourmg to save a wounded man, was fired at, the shot striking his unhappy burden and mortally wounding him. The young officer was slightly wounded himself, but managed to escape after shooting his assailant dead at  very close quarters. The conduct of the Dublins was the subject of universal praise. They lost heavily; some 216 out of 900 men. When ordered to retire, although the crossing of the Tugela Drift was a sufficiently fearful  experience, they were intensely disgusted. "Let us only see the beggars!" they asked. "Give us a chance with the bayonet!" said these gallant fellows, who had already passed through a hurricane of shot and  shell. The Scottish Fusiliers lost 75 out of 301, but they were still ready, still bent, if allowed, upon carrying the bridge at all costs. Their enterprise was badly rewarded. They got left in an untenable position and were  surrounded.

Captain Herbert, Staff Officer to Colonel Long, had his horse killed under him, while the Colonel himself was severely wounded by a bullet from a shrapnel shell. Captain White-Thomas, while on his way back to the  limbers to get blankets for the injured, received a nasty wound. Colonel Brook (Connaught Rangers) was shot, and while being carried off the field by some of his men, one of these was wounded. The Colonel insisted on being put  down, but Pat also insisted that he was equal to carrying his burden to a place of safety, and did so, though a shot had pierced his neck and passed clean out on the other side.

So many valiant deeds were performed that space  will not admit of all being recounted. The irregulars and regulars seemed determined to out-distance each other in feats of chivalry. Private Farmer, of the Carabineers, struggled to save a comrade at the risk of his own life.  Colour-Sergeant Byrne, in a storm of bullets, gallantly saved three of his comrades who were drowning, though he and they were heavily weighted with ammunition and equipment. Major Gordon, wounded as he was, fiercely and nobly  led on his men till he dropped from exhaustion. The conduct of some of the drivers was simply amazing, and their daring was repeated and reflected in the achievements of the infantry. Quite wonderful was the bearing of these  men, mere private soldiers, in their magnificent nobility of sacrifice, their utter regardlessness of self. Each strove to set an example to the other of steadfast, almost reckless devotion to duty.

The circumstances  attending the capture of the guns were deeply tragic. Late in the terrible afternoon, when the red sun was sending horizontal rays across the blood-dyed field, a strong party of Boers swam the river for the purpose of seizing  the guns and forcing the wounded, who were huddled together in the donga, to surrender. It was a fearful moment. Our worn-out, fainting, and dying men were lying about drenched in their own gore, helpless, and none could move  to save the precious guns from falling into alien hands. Some raged, some wept with mortification at their powerlessness to stay the inevitable. Three Boers approached them for the purpose of demanding their instant surrender,  and were shot at from the donga. A larger body then arrived, and though Colonel Bullock doggedly refused to surrender, and was struck down by their leader, they eventually forced the party to submit. It is said-let us hope it  was mere report that they threatened to shoot the wounded if they did not! However, the fact was mentioned by Sir Redvers Buller, who doubtless had been well informed on the subject.

The following is the list of casualties in the engagement at Colenso :-

Royal Field Artillery-Killed: Captain A. H. Goldie, Lieutenant C. B. Schreiber. Royal Dublin Fusiliers-Killed: Captain A. H. Bacon, Lieutenant P.C.  Henry. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers-Killed: Captain Frank C. Loftu~ Devon Regiment-Wounded: Captain M. J. Goodwyn (b), Captain J. F. Radcliffe (b), Captain P. U. W. Vigor (c), Lieutenant H. B. W. Gardiner (c), Second Lieutenant  H. J. Storey (c). Rifle Brigade-Wounded: Second Lieutenant R. G. Graham (b), Captain W. N. Congreve (c). Fifth Brigade Staff -Wounded: Captain Hon. St. Leger Jervis (b). Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers -Died of wounds: Major G. F.  W. Charley. Wounded: Captain A. G. Hancocks (a), Captain W. F. Hessey (b), Captain E. J. Buckley (b), Lieutenant H. A. Leverson (b), Second Lieutenant T. W. Whiffen (b), Lieutenant A. D. Best (b), Lieutenant W. W. Weldon (c),  Lieutenant J. G. Devenish (b). Border Regiment-Wounded: Major K. H. G. Heygate (b), Captain J. E. S. Probyn (c), Lieutenant G. T. Marsh (b). Connaught Rangers-Wounded:

Colonel L. G. Brooke (a), Lieutenant G. F. Brooke (a).  Royal Dublin Fusiliers. -Wounded: Major A. W. Gordon (b), Captain H. M. Stewan (b), Second Lieutenant M'Leod (b). Royal Irish Fusiliers-Wounded: Captain T. E. R. Brush (b). Royal Horse Artillery-Wounded: Colonel Long (a). Royal  Field Artillery-Wounded : Lieut.-Colonel H. Hunt (c), Captain H. D. White-Thomson (c)~ Captain H. L. Reed (c), Captain F. A. G. Elton (b), Lieutenant Frank Goodson (c). Royal Army Medical Corps-Killed: Captain M. C. Hughes.  Wounded: Major F. A. Bracington (?Brannigan) (c). Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry-Killed: Lieutenant C. M. Jenkins. Wounded: Lieutenant W. Otto (b), Lieutenant Ponsonby (c), Second Lieutenant Holford, 19th Hussars (attached)  (a). Natal Carabiniers - Wounded: D. W. Mackay (b), Lieutenant R. W. Wilson (c). South African Light Horse-Wounded : Lieutenant B. Banhurst (b), Lieutenant J. W. Cock (c). King's Royal Rifles-Wounded: Lieutenant Hon. F. H. S.  Roberts (since died). Field Artillery-Prisoners: Second Lieutenant R. W. St. L. Gethin, Major A. L. Bauward, Lieutenant A. C. Birch, Second Lieutenant C. D. Holford, Major W. Y. Foster. Devon Regiment-

Prisoners:

Lieut.  -Colonel G. Bullock, J. M'N. Walter, Lieutenant S. N. F. Smyth-Osbourne. Essex Regiment-Prisoner: Lieutenant W. F. Bonham. Royal Scots Fusiliers -Prisoners: Captain D. H. A. Dick, Captain H. H. Northy, Lieutenant E. Christian,  Lieutenant E. F. H. Rumbold, Lieutenant M. E. M'Conaghey, Second Lieutenant G. E. Briggs. Royal Artillery-Missing: Lieutenant S. T. Butler. Connaught Rangers-

Missing:

Captain G. H. Ford-Hutchison, Second Lieutenant E. V. Jones.

(a) dangerously wounded; (b) seriously; (c) slightly.

Our losses were 1167 all told. Killed, 5 officers and 160 men; wounded, 36 officers and 634 men; missing and  prisoners, 26 officers and 311 men, a terrible list for one day's work.

Sad to state, our ambulances were designedly fired upon. Five shells fell in the neighbourhood of a waggon packed with wounded, and one party of  ambulance men was forced twice to abandon their work of succour. The tents of the field-hospitals were no sooner erected than shells fell all round them, and the men were forced to desist from their labours. The heroic conduct  of the civilian stretcher bearers was generally the subject of remark. These men, though fired at by the enemy and injured, continued zealously to carry on their humane work, and assisted in saving many lives which might  otherwise have been sacrificed. The force of the enemy opposed to us was estimated at 12,000 to 14,000. From a tactical standpoint the Boers had overwhelming advantages. Their numbers were immense, and the dangerous high-banked  river, which they themselves had carefully dammed and filled with wire entanglements, made a formidable shield for the defensive party. In addition to this, they had constructed long, highly scientifically-arranged trenches,  along which their Nordenleldt gun could quickly travel, and thus defy any attempt of our gunners to get the range. Still the Naval guns were wonderfully worked, and wrought considerable havoc among the Boers in the overhanging  kopjes. Though their loss could not be accurately estimated, it was declared to be about 2000. The trenches were said to be choked with dead Dutchmen.

On the 16th. of December an armistice was agreed.upon, to last from noon  till midnight, to enable both sides to collect and bury their dead.

The following "recommendations to notice" illuminated the somewhat sad nature of the General's despatch

"From the General Commanding-in-Chief the Forces in South Africa to the Secretary of State for War.

"CHIEVELEY CAMP, Dec. i6, 1899.

"S1R, I have the honour to bring the following cases of  Distinguished Service in the Field to your notice.

"At Colenso, on December 15, the detachments serving the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, had all been either killed wounded, or driven from  their guns by infantry fire at close range, and the guns were deserted.

"About 500 yards behind the guns was a donga, in which some of the few horses and drivers left alive were sheltered. The intervening space was swept  with shell and rifle fire.

"Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade, who was in the donga, assisted to hook a team into a limber, went out and assisted to limber up a gun; being wounded, he took shelter, but seeing Lieutenant  Roberts fall badly wounded, he went out again and brought him in. Some idea of the nature of the fire may be gathered from the fact that Captain Congreve was shot through the leg, through the toe of his boot, grazed on the  elbow and the shoulder, and his horse shot in three places.

"Lieutenant the Honourable F. Roberts, King's Royal Rifles, assisted Captain Congreve. He was wounded in three places.

"Corporal Nurse, Royal Field  Artillery, 66th Battery, also assisted. I recommend the above three for the Victoria Cross.

"Drivers H. Taylor, Young, Petts, Rockall, Lucas, and Williams, all of the 66th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, rode the teams,  each team brought in a gun. I recommend all six for the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.

"Shortly afterwards Captain H. L. Reed, 7th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, who had heard of the difficulty, brought  down three teams from his battery to see if he could be of any use. He was wounded, as were five of the thirteen men who rode with him; one was killed, his body was found on the field, and thirteen out of twenty-one horses were  killed before he got half-way to the guns, and he was obliged to retire.

"I recommend Captain Reed for the Victoria Cross, and the following non-commissioned officers and men, 7th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, for the  Medal for Distinguished Service in the Field "86,208 Corporal A. Clark, wounded; 87,652 Corporal R. J. Money; 82,210

Acting-Bombardier J. H. Reeve; 28,286 Driver C. J. Woodward; 22,054 Driver Wm. Robertson, wounded;  22,061 Driver Wm. Wright, wounded; 22,051 Driver A. C. Hawkins; 26,688 Driver John Patrick Lennox; 22,094 Driver Albert Nugent, killed; 23,294 Driver James Warden; 32,087 Driver Arthur Felton, wounded; 83,276 Driver Thomas  Musgrove; 26,523 Trumpeter William

W. Ayles, wounded.

"I have differentiated in my recommendations, because I thought that a recommendation for the Victoria Cross required proof of initiative, something more, in fact,  than mere obedience to orders, and for this reason I have not recommended Captain Schofield, Royal Artillery, who was acting under orders, though I desire to record his conduct as most gallant.

"Several other gallant drivers tried, but were all killed, and I cannot get their names.-I have, &c.,

REDVERS BULLER, General."

Appended is an account of the battle given by Captain Walter Norris Congreve, one  of the heroes of the day. It is deeply interesting, though it makes little reference to his own gallant action for which he gained the Victoria Cross

"Our big Naval guns shelled the enemy's position off and on all day,  but could get no response. We could see very few Boers about, and it was a horrid position to attack. . . . I don't believe any troops could have taken it. However, we tried yesterday and failed. We bombarded every place that  looked like holding Boers for two hours, without response and without a sign of a Boer. To see the shells bursting, you would have thought nothing could have been left alive in the vicinity. After this, infantry, which had  already got into position, advanced line after line and extended widely. Instantly thousands of bullets began pattering about, and their guns pitched shells all over the place. Where they came from no one could see till the  end. Sir Redvers Buller rode all along the line, and came in for a good deal of attention from bullets and shells.

"My first experience was my stick being knocked out of hand by a bullet; then a horse beside me was  killed by a shell. About 10 o'clock two batteries which had advanced far too close ran short of ammunition. Their waggons were about Soo yards behind, the horses and men sheltering in a deep narrow nullah. General Buller told  them to take the waggons up to the battery, but instantly they emerged a stream of bullets and shells fell all round, and most of the men got into the nullah again. Generals BuIler and Cleary stood out in it and said, 'Some of  you go and help Schofield.' A.D.C. Roberts, myself, and two or three others went to the waggons, and we got two waggons horsed with the help of a corporal and six gunners. I have never seen even at field-firing the bullets fly  thicker. All one could see were little tufts of dust all, over the ground accompanied by a whistling noise, 'phut,' where they hit, and an increasing rattle of musketry somewhere in front.

"My first bullet went through  my left sleeve and just made the point of my elbow bleed. Next a clod of earth caught me a smack on the other arm ; then my horse got one; then my right leg one, and my horse another. That settled us, for he plunged, and I fell  about 100 yards short of the guns we were going to. A little nullah was by, and into that I bobbled and sat down. I had not been in a minute before another bullet hit the toe of my boot, went into the welt, travelled up, and  came out at the toe-cap, two inches from the end of the toe. It did not even scratch me, but I shifted my quarters pretty quickly to a better place, where I found Colonels Hunt and Long, R.A., and a dozen or so wounded gunners;  a doctor, Colonel Bullock, and about fifteen men of his regiment, all that were left of the escort and two batteries.

"At about 11 o'clock the fire slackened, and I went out, finding poor Roberts badly wounded, and with  help got him into the nullah. There we lay from 11 till 4.30: no water, not a breath of air, no particle of shade, and a sun which I have never felt hotter even in India. My jacket was taken to shade Robert's head, and what  with blood and dirt I was a pretty object by the time I got out. At 4.30 the Boers rode up and asked us to surrender, or they would shoot us all. Colonel Bullock was the senior unwounded officer, and had, perhaps twenty rifles  all told. He refused, and they at once began a fusillade from fifty yards distant, and our people returned it. It was unpleasant, and only a question of minutes before they enfiladed our trenches and bagged the lot. Bullock's  men knocked over two, and they then put up a white flag, parleyed, said we might remove our wounded, and the remainder either be taken prisoners or fight it out. However, while we were talking 100 or so crept round us. We found  loaded rifles at every armed man's head, and we were forced to give in. One of our ambulances came up, and we were gradually collected at one spot, and a colour-sergeant of the Devon Regiment carried me upon his back."