The troops with General French were in very fine fettle. They had no past history; they were not damped by the remembrance of a Majesfontein, a Stormberg, or a Colenso. They had perfect confidence in their chief; they had just enough hard work to keep their wits polished and their minds alert, and in the intervals there was sport of a kind for those who fancied it.
Fighting in and around Colesberg was incessant. The Boers were most stubborn in their
determination to get rid of the British, and General French was equally stubborn
in his determination to get rid of the Boers! Colesberg was a situation to be desired,
and both British and Boer forces fought desperately to hold it. It is situated some
Early on Monday morning his troops took up a position upon the kopjes surrounding the town. His force, divided into two brigades commanded by Colonel Porter (Carabineers) and Colonel Fisher (10th Hussars), simultaneously attacked the Boer position.
The second brigade started from Rensburg at five on the previous afternoon, passed the night at Maider's farm, and in the small hours proceeded to their destination, the Boer position on Val Kop, and seized the kopjes overlooking Colesberg on the west.
The advance was made on the Boer haunts at nine, and was greeted by a tornado from the surprised enemy, whose position extended for six miles round the entire village. Our artillery answered briskly, continuing a two hours' argument which had the result of effectually silencing the seven or eight Boer guns. (Curiously enough, on inspection, it was discovered that some of the Boer shells had been manufactured at the Royal Laboratory, Woolwich!)
Meanwhile the cavalry and horse-
On the 2nd of January an unfortunate accident occurred. A train within the British lines was mysteriously set in motion, and was carried by the impetus given to it in the direction of the Boer lines. It travelled slowly, but sufficiently fast to get out of reach, and as the machine was full of supplies, it was necessary to fire en and destroy it rather than allow the Boers to reap the reward of rebel treachery. The brakes were found to have been taken off the trucks, and a Dutchman was arrested on suspicion of having perpetrated the deed. At first an attempt was made to mend the trucks, the working party being supported by Carabineers and the Mounted Infantry; but these were bombarded by the Boers, and finally the trucks had to be fired to prevent the rations they contained, a quantity of rum, from falling into the hands of the enemy. The New South Wales Lancers under Major Lee, who were sent to the scene to avert looting by the foe, spent five hours under fire, holding the position and returning the fire with great gallantry.
The small force under General French's command at this time consisted of the Carabineers,
ioth Hussars, Inniskilling Dragoons, O and R Batteries of Horse Artillery, the Berkshires
and Suffolks, the New South Wales Lancers and New Zealanders. With this limited number
he had worked wonders, driving the Dutchmen out from the kopjes immediately around
Arundel, and forcing them continually to shift their position, a process which effectually
deterred them from gaining ground. The Beer position now lay on long lines of kopjes
to east and west of the rails, from Taaibosch Laagte to Rensburg; in the middle
of the plain was the dumpling-
The enemy now prepared a little surprise. At daybreak on the 4th they made a sudden attempt to outflank the British position beyond Coleskop, westward of the town; thus hoping to reopen communications with the northern waggon bridge.
In General French's report of the day's work, he said: "The enemy was found to have established himself in strength at some hills running about east and west at right angles to the left rear of our position. The cavalry on the left should not have allowed him to do this unseen, but in turning him out they rendered signal service. The 10th Hussars, with two guns which I sent to them, threatened to take them in reverse, and they were heavily fired upon by the remaining four guns of 0 Battery in front. This caused several hundred to abandon the position, and the plain was covered with flying horsemen. The 10th Hussars on one flank, and a squadron of the Inniskillings on the other, dashed after them. The ioth Hussars were checked by some of the Boers taking up a strong position in some rocks to cover the retreat of the others. In a most gallant style Colonel Fisher dismounted his men and led them on foot against this position, which they carried with great boldness and intrepidity.
"In this daring operation, I regret to say, Major Harvey was killed, and Major Alexander severely wounded.
"The 6th Dragoons, led by Captain B. A. Herbert, showed no less dash, pursuing the
enemy, mounted, and inflicting some loss with their lances. Some 200 of the enemy
had, however, still clung to the hills, and after shelling them for some considerable
time, both in front and flank-
On the 5th of January, Lieutenant Sir John Milbanke, who went out with a patrol
of five men on the plain north of Colesberg, came in touch with the enemy. The Boers
galloped up to intercept the small British party, and Sir John Milbanke was slightly
wounded in the thigh. This form of skirmish was an almost daily occurrence, for
round the place was a species of Boer girdle. The Dutchmen, like flies-
One of the officers writing of the affair said : "It is quite certain the Colonel never gave that order, or the officers would have retired too. They remained to a man, except Graham, who was wounded early, and could not hold his rifle. He dragged himself down the hill, and somehow crawled the two miles into camp. The Boers said those that were left charged three times and behaved splendidly. The position was impossible to take, even if a brigade had attacked, although it had been carefully reconnoitred. The ditch, with the loopholed wall near the top of the hill, could only have been discovered by a balloon. The Colonel's last words were, 'Remember Gibraltar, my boys!' "
There was deep regret at the loss of this distinguished officer, and the whole force lamented the first check which this column had sustained. The enemy was shelled at intervals, so as to make his position as uncomfortable as possible, but the Boers still remained in possession of the route leading to the Free State by Achtertang. Soon the Essex Regiment was sent on to replace the 1st Suffolks who went south to recruit their shattered forces.
Among the wounded officers was Major Graham; Lieutenants Wilkins, Carey, and White
were killed. With those taken prisoners were Captains Brett, Thomson, Brown; Second
Lieutenants Allen, Wood-
The British occupied Slingersfontein on the 9th of January. From this time Colonel
Porter and his splendidly alert troops-
These sandstorms, characteristic of the Veldt, were a terrible test to patience.
At one moment the camp was an orderly array of mushroom tents springing decorously
from the earth; in the next it was seemingly an animated mass of anthills trying
to maintain life against an ochreous avalanche of dust. Occasionally when the cyclone
of grit had ceased, it was followed by a hurricane of hail, accompanied by the gloom
of night, the bellow of the blast and growl of the thunder -
After this, the routine of life would go on much as before, the Dutchmen clinging to their positions, and General French determining to make these as untenable as possible.
On the 15th the New Zealanders had an excellent opportunity of exhibiting their smartness
and dash. The Boers made a stubborn attempt to seize a hill that practically commanded
the country to east and west of their main position. This valuable eminence was held
by a detachment of New Zealanders and D Company of the Yorkshire Regiment under
Captain Orr. Early in the morning desultory firing began, and later the Boers, increasing
the warmth of their fire, worked towards the right of the position held by the New
Zealanders. At the same time they assailed the Yorkshires, directing their fire
at a small wall held by them and forcing them to keep close cover. Gradually the
Boers advanced, creeping towards the wall ever nearer and nearer. They then blazed
furiously from their position on the slopes, killing the Sergeant-
Away rushed the enemy, rolling one over another in their effort to be off; while
a sustained storm of bullets inflicted heavy loss on their retreating numbers. From
the distance they made a feeble attempt to fire at the gallant fellows who had routed
them, but eventually they retired to the small kopjes at the base of the contested
hill. There they were saluted by a detachment of two guns of 0 Battery from the
west of the kopje. The enemy's long-
The events of the last few days had served to show that, however the Colonials might
differ in their customs, habits, and ideas, they were assuredly identical in their
dogged bravery and their fine spirit of dash-
"They come of The Blood, slower to bless than to ban, Little used to lie down at the bidding of any man,"
and Captain Madocks and his hardy New Zealanders had now the well-
The Boers now brought to bear on the position one of the guns captured by them at
Stormberg, and launched some ten shots into the kopjes held hy a company of the
Welsh kegiment. They got as good as they gave, and before long the enemy was completely
silenced. General French's system was a tit-
A very serious disaster befell a patrol consisting partly of New South Wales Lancers and South Australian Horse, who had so nobly volunteered their services to the Mother Country at the begi ning of the war. On the morning of the 16th of January a party of nineteen rode out from Colonel Porter's camp for the purpose of reconnoitring towards Ochtertang It was not yet dawn, but they pursued their investigations, reaching Norval Camp without seeing any signs of the enemy. About 8 A.M. they commenced the return journey naturally with a feeling of greater security than when they started. They unfortunately fell into an ambush. A hot Fight ensued, but the Boers were in overwhelming numbers, and the party was hard pressed. Two escaped to camp, and six more, after hiding till it was possible to make good their escape, followed them. The rest were made prisoners, but not without a struggle, as the bodies of four dead Australian and seven dead Boer horses, left on the field, served to testify. Lieutenant Dowling was killed. The enemy now occupied Klein Toren to the north of Slingersfontein.
On the 18th inst. Major-
General Clements had also, at Slinger's, one company New Zea,land Mounted Rifles; one squadron and four guns. Colonel Porter, 6th Dragoon Guards, with four squadrons, two guns, ano one company of infantry, was posted at a farm called Potfontein, some eight miles east, and a little south, of Slinger's. The enemy's force at Colesberg was now hemmed in on the west, south, and east, and their position began to look uncomfortable, particularly as a battery firing lyddite shells was at hand to assist in the British operations. The British now held a 'series of positions of great extent, shaped after the manner of a mark of interrogation, with Colesberg within the curve of the hook.
The distance to be covered between the camps on the east and west flanks was about
sixteen miles. Supplies were conveyed by waggons drawn by mules of South African
On the 25th General French made a reconnaissance in person, and discovered that the
enemy was strongly posted at Rietfontein. The reconnaissance occupied two days,
during which the troops covered forty miles. In spite of many efforts to cut the
Boer's communications with the Free State the Boers outwitted him, or rather out-
On Saturday, the 27th, a melancholy incident took place. For some weeks Major MacCracken had been holding a hill close up to the Boer position, and on this particular morning, though no fighting was taking place, a shell was plumped upon the hill by the enemy with the result that an officer was wounded. A New Zealander named Booth, orderly to General Clements, was killed while holding the General's horse. At this time General French had mysteriously disappeared. His destination, though not announced, was Cape Town, where he went on a visit to Lord Roberts, whose plans were rapidly approaching cormpletion. The upshot of that momentous visit we shall discover anon.
|The Growth of the Transvaal|
|The Web Thickens|
|The Zulu War|
|Isandlwana, an hour by hour account|
|Affairs at Home|
|The First Anglo Boer War|
|Between the Wars|
|The Fate of SGT Elliot|
|The Siege of Pretoria|
|The Reform Movement|
|The Critical Moment|
|The Fate of the Raiders|